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Malaysia Seeks to Deport Almost Half Million Illegal Workers

A Malaysian immigration officer puts zip-ties on the wrists of suspected undocumented immigrants during an immigration raid operation shortly after midnight in Klang, outside Kuala Lumpur, in the early hours of Sept. 1, 2013. Photographer: Mohd Rasfan/AFP/Getty Images
A Malaysian immigration officer puts zip-ties on the wrists of suspected undocumented immigrants during an immigration raid operation shortly after midnight in Klang, outside Kuala Lumpur, in the early hours of Sept. 1, 2013. Photographer: Mohd Rasfan/AFP/Getty Images

Sept. 2 (Bloomberg) -- Malaysia arrested thousands of undocumented immigrants as the country began a nationwide operation to track down and deport almost half a million illegal workers from countries including Indonesia and Bangladesh.

A total of 2,433 people were arrested during 40 operations that began simultaneously across the country yesterday led by the immigration department, army, police and local councils, Saravana Kumar, a Department of Immigration deputy director, said in a telephone interview today. The crackdown is the largest to date in the country, he said.

Malaysia, Southeast Asia’s third-largest economy, is clamping down on cheap illegal labor as it strives to move up the value chain from its agricultural base into more high-end manufacturing and services. About 1.3 million overstayers registered for permits during an amnesty in 2011, Saravana said. This is the second nationwide crackdown since then on those who failed to come forward.

The operation “will continue till end of the year and during this process, we will identify, arrest, charge and deport all those who have committed offenses under the Immigration Act,” Alias Ahmad, director general of immigration, said in a telephone interview today. “Employers found harboring or employing illegal immigrants will be charged in court.”

The government estimates there are still more than 400,000 foreign laborers who haven’t obtained legal documents, Saravana said. Malaysia has 30.1 million people and had an unemployment rate of 3.1 percent at the end of last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The move coincides with an expected slowdown in economic growth. The central bank cut its forecast for growth this year to 4.5 percent to 5 percent last month after expansion last quarter fell short of economists’ estimates.

Malaysia is also planning to delay some government-linked infrastructure projects to help contain a budget deficit and bolster a shrinking current-account surplus, Idris Jala, a minister in the Prime Minister’s Department said last week.

To contact the reporters on this story: Elffie Chew at echew16@bloomberg.net; Manirajan Ramasamy in Kuala Lumpur at rmanirajan@bloomberg.net; Chong Pooi Koon in Kuala Lumpur at pchong17@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Barry Porter in Kuala Lumpur at bporter10@bloomberg.net; Rosalind Mathieson in Singapore at rmathieson3@bloomberg.net

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